When I was younger and used film cameras I would take a photograph of a ditch, to my eye it was a channel of water and plants, but in reality when it came back it would look like a mess. The eye can be fooled by only seeing what it wants.
John Nash – The Moat, Grange Farm, Kimble, c1922
This is why there is a joy of artists like John Nash, to paint what I thought I was seeing. Here are a series of paintings by Humphrey Spender. Spender was a talented painter and photographer, famous really for his work on Mass Observation. The paintings are abstract and in them I can see different lakes and rivers I know, but the genius and joy is that they can be anywhere.
China clay is a material known as kaolin. It was first used in China more than ten thousand years agoto make porcelain. When the Chinese started to export this to Europe it was fashionable but expensive. Noticing a gap in the market, a Plymouth apothecary called William Cookworthy began to research the porcelain-making process and spent several years searching for a material that resembled the kaolin that had been used for so long in China. In 1745 he eventually found it, at Tregonning Hill, near Germoe, in Cornwall, where a rare type of decomposed granite, finer than most talcum powders, arises naturally.
The mining of this over the years scared the landscape with a white mountain of spill and a quarry pit. I have some memory that it was on one of these trips that John Nash painted with Edward Bawden and Carel Weight.
John Nash – Disused China clay pit near Hensborough
John Nash – China clay landscape
John Nash – A mine, Bugle, Cornwall
John Nash – Mountain Landscape with Distant Lake, 1939
John Nash – China Clay Matterhorn 1952
John Nash – Clay pits , 1954
John Nash – Panorama of Pyramids, 1953
Below is a painting by Carel Weight, it’s the same view of the painting above by John Nash, is it chance or not? Nash used to make pencil drawings of a subject and then come back to it later in the year, maybe with some of his Cornish paintings he came back years later? Or just a fluke, who knows. It doesn’t help that the Weight picture isn’t dated.
In this blog are a series of paintings by John Nash of Bristol.
In 1925 and 1937, on the latter occasion with Eric Ravilious, he visited Bristol, which he greatly enjoyed, especially the docks and paddle-steamers; these, he wrote, ‘were the inspiration of many works’. At the same time he visited Bath, which he found equally stimulating.
Nash had been advised to work at Bath and Bristol by Edward Wadsworth when they were working together in 1920 on a mural project. Nash went to both cities in the summer of 1924 and again in 1925. Looking at the painting below of Seaport by Wadsworth it is clear his style and suggestion had an effect on Nash.
Edward Wadsworth – Seaport, 1923
John Nash – The Dredgers, Bristol Docks, 1924
John Nash – Bristol Docks, 1924
John Nash – The Dredgers, Bristol Docks, (likely 1924)
John Nash – Bristol Docks, 1925
Ravilious and Nash had got to know each other at the Royal College of Art as pupil and teacher, then later as colleagues. It was Nash’s recommendation that they both went to sketch at Bristol Docks. Ravilious wanted to try to subjects They painted the same location at night, when the docks were quiet and the boats tied up. It was about the same time as Ravilious painted Newhaven also.
Eric Ravilious – Bristol Docks, 1938
Above is the Eric Ravilious painting he made sitting next to John Nash at night, so they could paint the docks while the boats were tied up. Below is the John Nash painting and a cleaned up version of the drawing.
John Nash – Nocturne: Bristol Docks, 1938
John Nash – Nocturne: Bristol Docks, Gridded Sketch, 1938
John Nash – Study of ‘Pump Room’, Plymouth Dockyards, WW2
Above is one of John Nash’s war paintings from his brief stint as a War Artist in the Second World War. It was sketched on site and it has notations for colour to be worked up later into an oil painting. I mention it as the figure head was used below.
John Nash – Handbook of Printing by W S Cowell, 1947
In the Handbook of Printing by W.S. Cowell there is an illustration by Nash of Bristol, it’s a modern day version of Turner’s The Avon Gorge and Bristol Hotwell as seen below. I thought it was a nice way to see him looking back twenty years whilst winking at Turner.
J.M.W. Turner – The Avon Gorge and Bristol Hotwell, 1792
The Kennet and Avon Canal in Bath was built between 1796 and 1810. Before the age of steam with the railways, canals were the main super highways of Britain. This Canal enabled goods to be easily transported between London and Bristol.
Many of the pictures in this blog post are dated 1927. There are a few painted and listed as 1926. Dating works by John Nash can be tricky, he often spent the summers making watercolour sketches with colour notes in his sketchbook so the works could be painted in oil over the winter. There is another complication when artists date work and that is usually because they are only dated when exhibited – sometimes the date when sold becomes the date of the picture. Nash just signed his paintings and so dates are guesswork.
Many of these were sold at an exhibition at Goupil Gallery in March 1928 with Gilbert Spencer and Neville Lewis.
Nash had been advised to work at Bath and Bristol by
Edward Wadsworth when they were working together in 1920. Nash went in the summer of 1924 and again in 1925.
John Nash – Canal Bridge, Sydney Gardens, Bath, 1927
John Nash – Lock Gates at Bath, 1926
Above is the view today, of the picture below.
Roderick Jones suggested the picture below has a Cezzane feeling to it in the angles and lay out of the buildings but they miss Cezanne’s gradient shading and the colours are very flat. I think what I like about the picture below most is the canals were used and you can see the desire lines in the grass where people walked from lock to lock.
John Nash – The Old Canal, Bath, 1927
Another photograph above is of the view below. The watercolour below has the oil painting under that too.
John Nash – Canal lock before a town, 1926
John Nash – Lock Gates, Bath, 1926
The bridge pictured below is the Grosvenor Suspension Bridge. It was demolished in 1929 and since then the area has been built over.
John Nash – Suspension Bridge, Bath, 1927
John Nash – Pulteney Bridge, Bath, 1926
John Nash – Avoncliffe from the Aqueduct, 1926
Above is a wash painting by Nash. It has been gridded to Nash could work it into the oil painting below.
John Nash is more famous for his paintings of the First World War or his later-life landscapes, but as a young man he was a very fine wood-engraver. It seems by nature that wood-engraving at this time follows book illustration and as John’s brother Paul was championing a wave of woodblock revival at this time it is no surprise that in 1921 John became a member of the Society of Wood Engravers, a new society set up in 1920 by Eric Gill, Lucien Pissarro and Edward Gordon Craig. In coming years with more confidence with woodcut John Nash was able to illustrate whole books such a Poisonous Plants, 1927 that features 20 large botanical illustrations.
Many of his prints before 1924 where done to learn the craft and given as gifts but the Golden Cockerel Press asked him to illustrate a book in woodcut and he became professional and and a commercial artist. He would sell these woodcuts as limited editions too.
John Nash – Black Bryony (Dioscorea communis), 1927
His innocence and freshness of outlook has led him to emphasise the sharp-cut quality of engraving and this expresses the essence of living and the appreciation of forms. John Nash’s engraving of the human form, of flowers and of plants have a realism that is quite scientific in its observation and crispness of expression. †
John Nash – Shearing Sheep, 1923
John Nash – Woodland Interior, 1929
John Nash – Spurge-Laurel (Daphne Laureola), 1927
John Nash – Frontispiece for Kathleen Woodward’s Jipping Street, 1928
John Nash – Marrow and other Autumn Fruit and Flowers, 1935
‘Flowers and Faces’ by H.E. Bates, published by the Golden Cockerel Press
John Nash – Flowers and Faces, 1935
‘Flowers and Faces’ by H.E. Bates, published by the Golden Cockerel Press
† Albert Garrett – A History of British Wood Engraving, 1978
When John and his wife Christine came to Wormingford on a holiday, they used to hire a small hut off the side of the local Mill but after it burnt down they returned to find a proper home. This led them to Bottengoms.
After John’s discharge from the forces in 1944, he and Christine sold their cottage at Meadle and moved into Bottengoms Farmhouse near Wormingford, Essex, which, with some two acres of land, they had bought for £750 the previous year. It remained their home for the rest of their lives. The name ‘Bottengoms’ is understood to derive from Bottingham, that of a Saxon farmer. The farmhouse is a small, two-storied sixteennth or seventeenth-century building, of wood and plaster, with one brick gable-end. †
The bulk of Nash’s work from 1944 onward can be found in the areas around Bottengoms, the docklands of Colchester and Ipswich to the landscapes of the Stour Valley and local mill ponds.
When he would venture further afield in France or Cornwall, Christine would scout out painting locations for him and then after he would turn up, walk around for the best view and then paint.
John Nash – Landscape near Polstead
John Nash – Poplar Plantation
Life at Bottengoms was very social. Though he never allowed sociability to disturb his work John formed a circle of close friends, almost all of them neighbours, ‘the dear ones’ as he called them. These included Robert and Natalie Bevan, Colin and Marian Benham, Cedric Morris, Lett Haines, David and Pamela Pearce, John and Griselda Lewis, Lady Fidelity, Lady Cranbrook and Ronald Blythe. †
John Nash – Winter Evening, Wormingford, 1967
John Nash – Disused Canal, Wormingford, Essex, 1958
John Nash – GPO Poster – Use Correct Address – Nayland in Suffolk.
John and Christine Nash’s Grave in Wormingford Church.
One of the nicer parts of my researches into the histories of Edward Bawden and John Nash is looking at the works they created on holiday together. As artists visiting a place together it seems they would look at a subject (the bridge at Ironbridge) and wonder around to get a perspective that pleased them both. Here with the Quarry I would imagine they had less opportunity to wander about, as it was then and is still now, a working Quarry. This has given a forced subject and view. I find it interesting how they both have translated it into a painting.
On five occasions we shared a painting expedition in Wales, on the Gower Peninsula & again near Haverfordwest at Littlehaven; in Cornwall during a cold wet spell of misery in the De Lank Quarry at Blisland; at Dunwich in Suffolk & in Shropshire at Ironbridge. †
Located near Blisland, not far from Bodmin, the De Lank Granite Quarry was a particularly engaging subject for Bawden as, ‘unlike many granite quarries on or near the moors it is still being actively worked, & for that reason retains an interest that others have lost ‡
The forced perspective of where it was safe to paint gives an interesting view to how both Nash and Bawden worked. I like mostly the blash pressure and fuel tank behind the workers hut on the crane.
Edward Bawden – The De Lank quarry no.2 , 1960
John Nash – The De Lank Quarry, Cornwall, 1960
John Nash – The De Lank Quarry at Blisland, Cornwall , 1960
The paintings below likely were made on the same trip, Sharp Tor was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 1960 and The De Lank River, De Lank Quarry No 2 and The Engine House all exhibited in the 1961 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The last two – likely worked upon in Bawden’s studio – are sad gloomy images.
Edward Bawden – Sharp Tor, Cornwall, 1960
Edward Bawden – The De Lank River, Cornwall, 1960
Edward Bawden – The Engine House, Cornwall, 1960
† Edward Bawden to John Rothenstein, 24th April, 1979.
‡ Letter from Edward Bawden, 12 July 1961
Edward Bawden went on a working holiday to Iron Bridge with the War Artists John Aldridge and Carel Weight. John Nash went with them, but I couldn’t find any records until the artist Celia Hart found some for me! Here I have collected some of the pictures all of them made from that trip and likely finished off in their studios at home. Although the John Nash works don’t have dates I am confident they are from the same trip.
I was at Ironbridge for about six weeks in September and October 1956 and was joined by John Aldridge, John Nash and Carel Weight. Each of us in turn painted the famous bridge’. ‘Houses at Ironbridge was almost the last painting I was able to do during my stay’. ‡
John Nash – Ironbridge through the Bridge, Gridded study.
John Nash – Ironbridge, (Exhibited in 1960)
The Iron Bridge is very handsome but a teaser to draw with three upright supports and five curved spans to every three so that a sideways view is very complicated…. We dodge between the showers and somehow I’ve done three drawings and a bit – but Carel has done an oil painting every day it seems while Edward keeps his work secretly in his rooms and does not divulge progress. Carel and I play bar billards every night, but Bawden will not join these simple diversions. ‡
John Nash – Ironbridge, Shropshire.
Edward Bawden – Ironbridge Church, 1956
Edward Bawden – The House at Ironbridge, 1956
Edward Bawden – Iron Bridge, 1956
Edward Bawden. Houses at Ironbridge, 1956
The Bawden paintings above all share the same palette leading me to think he painted them on location and touched them up later. The wall of Houses at Ironbridge is a layering of paint and grease to make a watercolour batik over the drawing of the wall.
The paintings of John Aldridge show a quickly sketched oil painting that I would say was done on location and then an Italian looking Ironbridge in a brighter series of colours and much more control that I suspect would have been finished off in Great Bardfield.
John Aldridge – Ironbridge, 1956
John Aldridge – Ironbridge III, 1956
John Aldridge – Garden in Ironbridge, 1956
Carel Weight – Ironbridge, 1957
‡ Tate – T00206 ‡ Letter from John Nash to John Lewis
John Armstrong – Coggeshall Church, Essex, 1940 – Tate – Not on Display
When most people think of artists and where they paint – they think of St
Ives, Cornwall. The new Tate gallery there and its controversial Stirling Prize nominated extension have been both a help and hindrance to locals, but maybe not the 24% of those in St Ives who are Second Home owners †. The same could be said for Margate and the Bilbao effect from the Turner Contemporary Tate Gallery there. The Tate has pushed tourist through Margate’s streets like air into lungs. In the East of England is where many of the country’s best loved artists lived, but sadly the East of England is rather poor when it comes to showing off their artists – so why not a branch of the Tate in Aldeburgh or Southwold or Colchester?
John Constable – Stoke-by-Nayland, 1811 – Tate – Not on Display
The famous East Anglian artists of old are John Crome, Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable. Crome was the most famous of the Norwich School of painters who were inspired by painters like Jacob van Ruisdael and the Dutch style. They painted the vast waterways, windmills and dykes of the fenland and Norfolk Broads. Crome also had many talented pupils. John Sell Cotman, one of the country’s best watercolour artists, was also part of this brew.
Alfred Munnings – From My Bedroom Window, 1930 – Tate, Not on Display
John Constable painted the Dedham Vale in Suffolk and, most famously, Flatford Mill. A brisk walk away is the Museum and former home of Alfred Munnings. Also in Dedham was the original home of Cedric Morris’s East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, but when it burnt down (John Nash told Ronald Blythe ‡) Munnings drove around the village like Mr Toad shouting ‘Down with modern art’. Cedric Morris then bought Benton End from Alfred Sainsbury in 1939 and continued his art school with his life partner, Arthur Lett-Haines. Lucien Freud, Maggi Hambling, Lucy Harwood, Valerie Thornton and Olive Cook all studied there.
Cedric Morris – Iris Seedlings, 1943 – Tate – Not on Display
In 1940 after his London home suffered bomb damage, the sculptor Henry Moore made his home in Perry Green, just south of Much Hadham. It is now a museum with a collection of his works in the grounds. Moore walked around the local fields picking up pieces of flint thrown aside from ploughing and in his studio he would draw them as pre-made organic sculpture. Moore called them his ‘library of natural forms’ and they would inspire his larger works.
Henry Moore – Seated Woman, 1957 – Tate – Not On Display
John Piper in the 80s made a beautiful series of ruined churches of East Anglia. In 1934, at Ivon Hitchens cottage in Sizewell, Suffolk, Piper met his wife Myfanwy Evens. They married in 1937. Myfanwy worked with Benjamin Britten writing lyrics to his operas including Death in Venice. Britten lived in Aldeburgh with his partner Peter Pears. Piper would design many of the stage sets.
John Piper – Covehithe Church, 1983 – Tate – Not On Display
On the other side of Colchester in 1944, war artist John Nash was restoring the Elizabethan Bottengoms Farm, moving in with his wife Christine Kühlenthal. Christine had studied at the Slade school of art alongside Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler and she worked at the Omega Workshops while John had become famous for his monumental paintings of the First World War alongside his brother Paul. At Bottengoms, John became famous for his landscape paintings and botanical studies. He taught at Colchester School of Art with Richard ‘Dickie’ Chopping, an artist known for his dust jackets for Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. Dickie lived with his lover, another landscape painter, Denis Wirth-Miller. Their life with Francis Bacon has been expertly documented in Jon Lys Turner’s ‘The Visitors’ Book’. Bacon owned a home in Wivenhoe as did Dickie and Denis.
John Nash – Mill Building, Boxted, 1962 – Tate – Not On Display
Also on the staff at Colchester was John o’Connor, a wood-engraver and landscape painter. He was once the pupil of both Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious at the Royal College of Art. Bawden and Ravilious where renting part of Brick House in Great Bardfield, Essex, when Ravilious moved a few miles away to Castle Hedingham with his painter wife Tirzah. Bawden and his Leach Pottery student wife Charlotte bought Brick House. Both men became war artists and only Bawden returned from the conflict after painting the early war, including Dunkirk. He was also shipwrecked off the coast of Africa, rescued and imprisoned by Vichy French forces, liberated by the Americans and then off again to paint the campaigns in Africa and Iraq. Eric died in 1942 when the aircraft he was in was lost off Iceland. Ravilious used the Essex area profusely in his short life there in
wood-engravings and watercolours.
Eric Ravilious – Tiger Moth, 1942 – Tate – Not on Display
Around the village of Great Bardfield, Bawden was joined by John Aldridge (a landscape painter), Walter Hoyle (one of Bawden’s students who helped Bawden on work at the Festival of Britain) and Michael Rothenstein (the pioneer printmaker and brother to the Director of the Tate Gallery). Other artists in the village were George Chapman, Bernard Cheese, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Audrey Cruddas, Sheila Robinson and Kenneth Rowntree.
John Aldridge – Head and Fruit, 1930 – Tate – Not on Display
In the small hamlet of Landermere – on the coastland of Essex – lived Adrian and Karin Stephen with their daughter Judith. Adrian was the younger brother of Virginia Wolfe and Vanessa Bell. After her parents death Judith lived on in their house with her husband and Independent Group member, Nigel Henderson. Also in Landermere they were joined by Eduardo Paolozzi who owned one of the cottages and set up Hammer Prints Limited, a company for printing limited edition works and designing abstract home wares such as wallpapers and tiles. Neighbours in the hamlet were architect Basil Spence and Festival of Britain artist and Coventry Cathedral glass engraver, John Hutton, as well as his son, children’s book illustrator Warwick.
Eduardo Paolozzi – Cyclops, 1957 – Tate – Not on Display
The Stephens were not the only Bloomsbury members to be in the East. David Garnett, his lover Duncan Grant, and Grants wife Vanessa Bell were all staying at Wissett Lodge, Suffolk in the summer of 1916 as conscientious objectors, working on a farm, though Vanessa is the one who got the most painting done.
With the boom in British publishing many of these artists enjoyed illustration commissions, from the cookery books of Ravilious and Bawden to poetry books decorated by John Piper and gardening books illustrated by John Nash.
Spencer Gore – The Beanfield, Letchworth, 1912 – Tate – Not On Display
Naturally there are names left out but there are too many artists to list. But why are they so poorly represented in the region? In the East there is the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and Kettles Yard but neither of these galleries aim to promote the work of East Anglian artists, but rather the international collections of the Sainsbury family and Jim Ede. They both do a lot of good for the local economy but it’s not the same as championing the area’s artists.
The nearest to it is the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, but their manifesto only lets them collect work from artists who have lived in North West part of Essex. But for all of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk there should be a body to represent them.
There are so many other artists that could be liberated from the Tate and their archives and put on show to support and promote the region where they were created. At the time of publishing, all the artworks in this blog owned by the Tate were not on display.
Here is a poem found in Volume 13 of the Saturday Book by Gerald Bullett, from 1953. The illustrations are by John Nash.
Now as my lamp burns low
I remember a green land of long ago,
A plum-coloured train chuffing and puffing about,
And me, lucky, carefully lifted out
And led away into heaven through a White wicket,
Proudly surrendering half a railway ticket.
Between the shafts of a high dogcart stood
A patient pony, warm and brown and good,
Good to touch and fondle, with oily eyes
Incapable of anger or surprise,
Who at a word, a lifting of slack reins,
Carried me and my cousins along the lanes,
Past wooded meadows and the enormous stare
Of cattle, and gray sheep, browsing there.
The sky moment by moment growing dim
While still the sun burned on the western rim,
Rooks home-going, hedges warm with scent,
I rode into my kingdom of content:
So found the farm, Aunt Jinnie, Uncle Ned,
The sleepy supper and the dreamless bed,
To wake next morning in a world new-made.
O Earth and Sky, most tried of comforters:
O morning glory aslant across the years
From far fields, where every blade and weed
Miraculously nourished my heart’s need:
It is here on the map, my joy-bright country
Where grief has brief being, despair no entry,
And in this aged almanack I can trace.
The year, the very hours, of blessedness.
But their unique conjunction, place and time,
Is now no more than a remembered rhyme
Quickening the drowsy blood. Too soon, alas,
The dews dissolve on leaves and shining grass.
Too soon the glossy chestnut, newly come
From silken fold, his paradisial bloom
By malice of corroding time must lose,
The sun droop, the flower of morning close.
80 shall my Eden, as all memories must,
When this my lamp goes out,
Dwindle into a little heap of dust,
Resolving faith and doubt …
In whose hand held, or what abysm lost?
THE POEM BY GERALD BULLETT
THE ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN NASH